Breaking boardrooms: creatives discuss their weird and wonderful pitch stories
Pitching to clients can be both arduous and exhilarating. The Drum Chip Shop Awards judges share their experiences of projects that they thought might never make it out of the boardroom.
Will Rust, executive creative director, Ogilvy Denmark: Potatoes on Mars
The client, an old friend of mine, approached me in late 2013 with a simple PR task, to do something with potatoes that people might talk about and put the organisation on the map. They were practically unknown. My idea was, if potatoes were so awesome for Earth, why not prove it by growing them on a dead planet. Like Mars. There were lots of blank stares.
Over two years, we got NASA involved, built a CubeSat Martian habitat (for under a thousand dollars), developed a new genotype of potato (that could grow on Mars in Martian soil), discovered that it could grow in areas on Earth that were stricken by issues cause by climate change, flooding, and high sodium in soil, grew it under Martian atmospheric conditions, deployed it in Bangladesh where it's already saving lives.
The campaign generated 280 million online engagements, three billion media reaches, and will form part of NASA's planned manned mission to Mars in the 2030's. The first living Earth organism to exist on another planet will be our potato, which will be transported to Mars with a legion of AI farming robots who will lay the foundation for a human colony.
The most satisfying thing about the whole project was that it was an utterly stupid idea, that became something that would change history — only because we were stupid enough to think we could do it.
Vikki Ross, copywriter, Vikki Ross Writes: For Skin
Working as a copywriter in The Body Shop's creative studio, I was briefed to name the new Men's Grooming range. We used to tell a story about each range based on its lead ingredient. Introducing maca root - known in Peru as a herbal alternative to Viagra. My mind went straight to sex and body parts. I proposed we call the range For Skin. The Creative Director loved it, the team loved it, the studio loved it - it was mocked up on packaging and it was going to be presented. Then the night before the pitch, the Creative Director had second thoughts and changed the name to For Men.
Emma De La Fosse, chief creative officer, UK, Ogilvy: Smoke is Poison
We once worked on a campaign for Cancer Research and the NHS called 'Smoke is poison'. It had the usual media spread; TV, print and radio, couple of digital banners. But we wanted to do something that would really make the premise, that cigarettes contain lethal chemicals like plutonium and arsenic, come to life in an unexpected and hard-hitting way.
That weekend we were driving down the motorway and got stuck behind a big chemical tanker with poison signs on the back. We noticed it's large cylindrical shape.... not unlike the shape of a cigarette. On the Monday we took our mock-up of the giant cigarette/chemical tanker to the client, thinking we'd be laughed out of the room. But we weren't and thanks to a very determined production guy, a few weeks later our cigarette tanker was rolling around the motorways of the UK as part of a smoking cessation roadshow.
Paul Jordan, executive creative director, Mcgarrybowen
When Angus (Macadam) and I were at Wieden+Kennedy, we led a pitch for a fire awareness campaign for the Department of Health. The challenge was to get people to check the batteries in their smoke alarms, because apparently most people have smoke alarms but fatalities often happen because the alarms don’t work owing to dead batteries. They had tried ads with people like Julie Walters trying to convince people to get up during the ad break and check their smoke alarm.
Angus and I realised that while people were sat down watching Britain’s Got Talent, they don’t really want to get up and balance precariously on a stool trying to press the little red button on their smoke alarm, because they were in relaxing mode. We thought, you have to get people while they are in busy, doing, chore mode. Like doing the housework, sweeping the floor or mopping or something.
So, we came up with “The lifesaving finger”. We made rubber fingers that would live on the end or your mop or broomstick. It would make reaching that smoke alarm easy. It would also serve as a reminder (always pointing skywards) to check your smoke alarm while you were in a ‘doing mode’ sweeping the floor or whatever – therefore more likely to do it. The rubber fingers were going to be caste from real celebrities’ fingers; Kate Winslett, Dizzy Rascal etc. These celebrities would feature in the humorous TV ads telling Britain how their fingers could save lives. It was nice tonal change from the usual scary/shocking government campaigns.
The government said they loved it and they thought it would actually help solve the issue - but they had to admit that they just wanted some ads really. They ended up doing the predictable shock tactics campaign.
Stephen De Wolf, executive creative director, Clemenger BBDO: Meet Graham
We presented our Meet Graham concept for the Transport Accident Commission. While everyone thought it was the right answer to the brief we all knew, including the client, a lot had to come together to successfully bring the campaign to life. Not only was it the artist, the trauma surgeon and the road safety engineer agreeing to the project. It was giving them space for the end result to stay true to the science and data, while remaining untouched by us and client. It was also an idea with interactivity and education at its core. A different shape of an idea for our client meant a whole new approach to a campaign roll out. From AR to PR and most importantly integration into the school curriculum, the client knew they had a job to do managing it through the business.
The results were more than both us, as an agency and our client could have ever imagined. We started a global road safety conversation and people are still meeting Graham as he tours the regions, spreading the message of human vulnerability on our roads.
It was a success because all of the reasons it mightn't have made it out of the boardroom, actually came together. And they only came together because we had a client who knew they needed to engage the community in a new way and with that, the need to do something different. It was their trust in all involved that meant the world met Graham.
Becky Mcowen-Banks, creative director, FCB Inferno
In a previous agency, our largest retained account was one of the big insurers, my client was sure that Facebook was the answer. Having to explain to an important client as to why people may not wish to be 'friends' without causing offense was a tough one. Rather than simply closing the door on 'social' I managed to build an understanding of the role our brand can play, but to sell in a series of films that would bring the brand closer to the customers - filling in a real education gap and need that existed in insurance journeys.
Bravery is knowing what the right thing to do is and not being afraid to follow that instinct - be it large or small everyday.
Explaining to a fervent believer that their understanding of where their brand can be is a task in itself, changing the tone from a difficult conversation to one of opportunity is an art!
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